In Part 8 of his series, Mark builds on his suggestion that missionaries be identified, recruited, and sent by the local church from within the local church, rather than almost entirely recruited by our Christian colleges and nonprofits. He’s not so much opposed to recruitment by colleges and nonprofits as anxious that we build a broader base — and the broadest possible base is the sum of all our churches.
We have talked about three main First Decisions for any Hopeful Missionary:
- which mission field,
- what type of work, and
- how should I prepare to go.
… What remains to be done is raising the necessary financial support.
In Part 9 Mark raises the question: “Blowing up missions committees?”
Here are what I see as the basic weaknesses of our standard model for supporting missionaries:
1) Mission work becomes the responsibility of a small number of people rather than of the whole body of Christ.
2) Mission information rarely gets out of committee, so congregations are ill-informed and uninspired about their missionaries.
3) With decisive power in the hands of a few, any change in personnel creates the potential for radical restructuring of that church’s mission strategy. Every new mission committee chairman brings a new agenda. New preachers and new elders often create the same instability.
4) Centralized money creates centralized power! And power corrupts! Mission committees are notorious for establishing small fiefdoms. …
5) Decisions about financial support are easier than decisions about spiritual needs, so the financial decisions direct our strategies for world missions.
6) Financial decisions can be very far removed from relationships with those we are supporting. Nothing good can come from the missionary becoming primarily an employee of the church.
Now, I disagree, I think. But as the series continues, maybe I’ll find that we’re on the same page. This is just my initial reaction.
I’ve seen all these problems, and they are real. I just don’t think the mission committee structure is the cause. My own congregation has a missions team, and we have none of these problems. So the problem isn’t inherent in the team structure. And while I’m not claiming we have the perfect set up, I know our missionaries are thrilled with how our missions team handles things.
1. The fact is that overseeing mission work requires a high level of expertise and the entire congregation can’t be that expert. And we need people to be doing other things. So it’s a matter of necessity that we focus on a few people and make certain they are well trained.
To do this, we’ve had representatives of Missions Resource Network visit with the elders and the team each of the last few years. Of course, the elders have to be trained, too, or else they’ll unwittingly get in the way of the missions team’s hard work. (There are other good missions organizations to work with. I just happen to have considerable experience with MRN.)
2. The elders, staff, and missions team are concerned that the congregation be kept fully informed of the mission effort. The entire church receives newsletters and reports from all our missionaries by email as they come in. The weekly bulletin often speaks of them. Missionaries are introduced in person to the church and the entire congregation participates in a formal covenanting process when they are first sent out.
We have an annual missions Sunday for a contribution to support the effort. Leading up to that day, presentations are made to the church about the missionaries, plans, budgets, and such. We sometimes have live video presentations by missionaries from the mission field via the Internet. (This is very cool when done well.)
3. We have a written “Framework” that lays out the mission strategy agreed to by the elders, staff, and missions team. It can be changed, but no one person can do it. The vision of the effort is designed to outlast any one person.
4. The missions team controls the money, but they are overseen by the elders and they report their budget and expenditures to the entire church annually. And the money has to be used within the agreed Framework.
5. It’s a fact that you can’t spend money you don’t have (unless you’re a government), but our missions team has been good to dream beyond our means, and sometimes the church buys into the vision and expands their giving. Giving has been steady despite the weak economy. And because the missions effort is funded separately from the church’s general fund, the general fund budget process can’t de-fund the mission program. Rather, funding of missions is directly by the congregation. It is whatever the members give for that purpose.
6. We budget to visit missionaries on site at least every-other year, but sometimes we visit more often. An elder and the chair of the missions team visited our Romanian missionaries in November and will return there soon.
Because of the ease of modern communications with email, Skype, and all that, we are able to talk with our missionaries as often as need be. It’s not expensive.
We think that the relationship of sponsoring church and missionary is something of a partnership. We don’t tell the missionary how to spend his days, but he is accountable. We sometimes counsel missionaries on changes, usually in consultation with MRN. As is true in all such things, as sponsors we are accountable for the wisdom of our investment in that effort, but we shouldn’t micro-manage the missionary. We don’t live there. We don’t know the culture or the language. But the refusal to micromanage doesn’t mean we don’t manage. Oversight is real, healthy, and necessary.
And as I said, I don’t know that we’ve put together the optimal plan, but it’s a plan that has missionaries begging to be sponsored by our congregation. We’ve even had missionaries tell us that they’d love for us to be their sponsor even if we have no money available for them. So I think our missions team is doing a fabulous job.
First let me say how much I appreciate the great conversation with you and your readers! Iron sharpens iron!
And then let me also say that it sounds like your congregational plan for missions is outstanding. I too am a big fan of MRN, who has apparently been a great resource for you.
As I suggest in a post you haven’t gotten to yet called “You Must Kill Your Darlings,” I suspect that you are the exceptional church–which is why missionaries probably beg you to please sponsor them. I’ll be interested to see yours and your readers responses to that particular post!
Blessings to you and thank you again for the engaging conversation.
Thanks so much for your thought-provoking series. It’s making me think harder about missions than ever before.
I just finished the first draft of my post on ‘You must kill your darlings’ and it’ll post around July 11. I’ll be interested to hear your reaction. (Of course, there are several drafts yet to go before July 11!)